Are your haul truck operators guilty of distracted driving?
August 9, 2013 | Best Practices
Are your haul truck operators guilty of distracted driving? Several recent stories in the media illustrate the dangers of this growing problem.
A recent train crash in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, which killed 79 people, was the result of its engineer taking a curve at over twice the rated speed, which caused it to derail and slam into the wall of a concrete culvert at an estimated 80 kph (111 mph). Early investigations revealed that the driver ignored three warnings to slow down in the two minutes prior to the disaster - because he was on his cell phone, talking to the train's conductor. By the time he realized he was approaching the curve too fast, it was too late.
What does this have to do with operators of haul trucks? Plenty.
While haul truck operators are usually working in remote areas where cell service is unavailable or spotty at best, they can get distracted by other things: Listening to music, playing games on their smartphone, glancing at a newspaper or simply starting to doze off as they plod through yet another haul cycle.
The jobs of haul truck operator and train engineer are alike in one critical respect: In both cases, they must spend long hours doing relatively boring, repetitive work - while at the same time remaining constantly aware of the condition of their vehicle and the what's going on outside the cab windows. The temptation to break up the boredom with other activities looms large.
In the case of a train driver, trackside signals provide important feedback on what's ahead and when to slow for sidings or stop for traffic ahead. They must be vigilant for cars and animals that may be stuck on the tracks. And they must be careful not to collide with other trains and track equipment.
The train crash in Santiago de Compostela, Spain isn't the first where a cell phone was involved. In 2008, a crash between a Southern California Regional Rail Authority commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, Calif., resulted in 25 deaths, 135 injuries and more than $7 million in property damages. An NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigation revealed that the commuter train had missed a stop signal and that the engineer had sent a text message within 30 seconds of the crash.
Other news stories include the infamous case of a Northwest Airlines crew that overflew Minneapolis by 150 miles because they were preoccupied with their electronic devices. Also in 2009, a commuter plane crashed shortly after take-off in Buffalo. An FAA investigation revealed that the pilot of the ill-fated flight sent a text message from her cell phone moments before take-off - during a critical phase of the plane's operation.
A large haul truck, moving at speed on a haul road, is no place for distractions. Haul truck operators must be vigilant at all times to avoid accidents with other equipment. They must pay close attention for rocks on the haul road, berms, animals and other potential hazards. They must keep an eye on changing ground conditions, such as soft or icy areas, and take extra care when driving on grades, where truck speeds can quickly get out of control if they are not monitored carefully.
In short, they need to have their eyes - and their minds - on the haul road and the condition of their vehicle at all times.
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